STAFF PICK: The Passengers by John Marrs

Title: The Passengers
Author: John Marrs
Narrator: Clare Corbett, Roy McMillan, Tom Bateman

Modern life is so strange.  I have an amazing phone app from my grocery store that, based on my past purchases sends me discounts, and seems to know when I’ve run out of shower gel, laundry soap, and cookies. Very, very creepy, but very, very convenient. Can you even imagine life now without phone apps, online DNA tests, or driverless transit systems like London Thameslink or Vancouver’s skytrain?

Many people are frightened of the growth of AI, which has lead to a growth in the popularity of dystopian literature, TV, and film, including shows and movies like Black Mirror, Ex Machina, and novels such as The Test.  I feel that there is nothing scarier (and more entertaining) than listening or reading something that you can actually imagine happening. I don’t generally find horror books scary, but a horror or thriller, set in modern times, involving normal day to day things? Nothing scarier.

The Passengers is such an all-encompassing, terrifying read. This listen is set in a society – not far from our own – where self-driving cars are now the norm. Considered to be safe, self-driving cars are used by everyone without issues.

One evening, eight people:  a faded TV star, a pregnant young woman, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an immigrant, a husband and wife, and a suicidal man, are traveling in their self-driving cars as usual. Suddenly, the doors lock, the destination changes, and all manual controls are disabled. Then a voice speaks, “You are going to die.”

From hidden cameras in their cars, their panic is broadcast to millions of people around the world. This situation is now a reality show with a twist. The public gets to choose which of the eight to save, which means killing the remaining seven….

What I love most about this listen is the way in which you feel like you are in the audience of the reality show.  During the book, the “voice” gives us more information about the eight people. Because of this information, the perception of the public changes, and suddenly the people who seem like they should stay alive become less deserving once we hear more about them. I started actually thinking about who I would kill first, and changed my mind over and over about who I felt should be saved. Much like Marrs’ other books, there are plenty of twists and turns that keep you listening and guessing right up until the end.

The audio production for this book is amazing. There’s a number of awesome narrators, and a barrage of sound effects, which adds to the idea that you’re listening to a reality show that’s happening live. It really adds to the drama of the situation.

If you’re a fan of writers such as J.G Ballard, or TV shows like Black Mirror, this is very much the listen for you! I’m now binge listening to the rest of John Marrs’ back catalog, and keeping away from all robots… 😉

Publisher Summary:
You’re riding in your self-driving car when suddenly the doors lock, the route changes and you have lost all control. Then, a mysterious voice tells you, “You are going to die.”

Just as self-driving cars become the trusted, safer norm, eight people find themselves in this terrifying situation, including a faded TV star, a pregnant young woman, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife, and a suicidal man.

From cameras hidden in their cars, their panic is broadcast to millions of people around the world. But the public will show their true colors when they are asked, ‘Which of these people should we save?…And who should we kill first?’

Read more and sample the audio →

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